Consumers cut back on small pleasures

When the school year began, Winters started packing lunches for herself and her husband, as well as her 15-year-old son.

"We're not panicking. We're more aware of what we spend our money on," she says. "We miss McDonald's fries, but you have to think about your future."

McDonald's customers know that "regardless of whether they have a little money to spend — or a little bit more to spend — there's always something on the menu for them," says spokesman Bill Whitman.

The Winters family also spends less time at a nearby Barnes & Noble bks bookstore — a favorite family hangout — and a lot more time at the public library, says Sara Winters, who works in marketing.

Still, when a search of the library and a used-book store didn't turn up a series of science-fiction books her son, Jack, wanted, she made an exception and spent $40 to buy them at Barnes & Noble. "When your son wants to read, it's hard to say no."

Barnes & Noble spokeswoman Mary Ellen Keating says that during recessions, consumers may pull back on big-ticket items, but they tend to keep buying books.

Movie theater out; Netflix in

About once every six weeks, William Muckelroy II and wife Lore would hit the local Regal Cinema rgc in Boise to catch a movie. A pair of tickets, two popcorns and two soft drinks set them back just under $30. After the show, they'd often stop at a restaurant — an additional $40.

Now, they pay $17 a month for a subscription to online DVD service Netflix nflx— and watch about two movies a week.

"At the end of the month, the credit card statements are less," says Muckelroy. Their last movie out was eight months ago.

Dick Westerling, Regal senior vice president of marketing, points out, however, that theaters have a long history of not being hurt in downturns and that Regal's loyalty program signed up 3 million new members last year.

Muckelroy also used to stop at the convenience store during errands to grab a bottle of Evian water that typically cost $1.29.

Ditto for his wife. He figures they spent $40 a month on bottled water.

Then, his wife started to carry tap water in a bottle. He followed and hasn't bought water in months.

"I realized it was stupid," he says. Still, he adds, "It's been rough. I miss the taste."

Evian spokeswoman Lauren Kinelski says the company hasn't seen sales "suffering as a result of consumer cutbacks."

Of all Muckelroy's simple luxuries, few cost more than his monthly trips to The Body Shop, which sells natural and socially responsible personal care products. With items such as $8 bars of soap, he'd sometimes run up an $80 tab.

"I was a Body Shop die-hard," he says. "I not only like their products, but I like what they stand for."

But the expense, he says, "got ridiculous." Now, it's Dial and Irish Spring bars at Walgreens — and only on sale.

Body Shop spokeswoman Shelley Simmons says, "Many of our customers see us as an affordable luxury."

She also says, however, that it recently offered a three-for-the-price-of-two deal on skin care products and that a loyalty program gives 10% discounts.

Pre-workout energy bar takes a $1.20 price cut

One of the first things to go for Jason Jepson, a marketing executive at a yacht dealer: his pre-workout PowerBars. He paid about $1.79 for each one at his gym, slightly less at his neighborhood Vons supermarket.

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